March 6, 2012

ALEC Exposed, and some food for thought

I want to provide a link to some admirable and important work being done by the Center for Media and Democracy: ALEC Exposed. (ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that serves as a clearing house for model state government legislation written to further the interests of corporations.)

The work of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the work of ALEC are good examples of the odd state of public information in this country today. On the one hand, and CMD shows, the political process is corrupt, and contrary to ideals of democracy, the public has little influence over the state of their own governance. On the other hand, despite the domination of society by corporate interests, we still have the access to government information and the free speech rights that enable CMD to do the work that they have done in exposing ALEC’s role in state legislation. It is a shame that these rights and the work done by CMD don’t have more of an influence than they do, but the potential is there.

This raises a question for librarians. We talk about our role in supporting the conditions for a democratic society, but what are libraries doing with the kind of information that CMD compiles and disseminates? What role are libraries actually playing in the public sphere where essential issues such as this are concerned? Concerning the support for democracy, what is the potential of libraries and what are libraries actually accomplishing?

And where does the new thinking in libraries, about serving the information needs of a Web 2.0 audience for example, address these questions? How is the new thinking of libraries addressing the GOALS of libraries as opposed to reacting to perceived changes with the goal of “staying relevant?” Should “staying relevant” be a goal in itself, or should we rather form external goals (like furthering democracy), which, in reaching them, satisfies any internal goals that may be thought up. It is like the difference between a young person whose goal is “to be successful” and a young person who has a goal to achieve advancements in his area of interests. He is successful if he accomplishes his goal. We are relevant if we accomplish our external goal of supporting democracy. We may need innovative strategies in order to do it, and traditional ways of doing things in libraries may be obstacles. But unless we focus on the goals instead of the tools, we will flounder around lost.